TRIVIAL PURSUITS: How did voters vote before our modern voting methods?

How did voting methods evolve from colonial times until now?

In colonial times, in many places, election days were social occasions accompanied by much eating and drinking. When it came time to vote, those qualified— a free, adult, male resident of his county, a member of the predominant religious group, and one who owned land worth a certain amount of money—would simply gather together and signify their choices by voice or by standing up. As time went on, this form of public voting was gradually abandoned in favor of secret paper ballots. For a while, however, some colonies required published lists showing how each voter cast his ballot.

For most of the 19th century, political parties controlled the printing and distribution of paper ballots, also known as party tickets. The paper ballots would be stuffed in slotted boxes, then counted by voting officials.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the electorate of the United States roughly doubled. Immigrants flocked to the nation’s cities, and women in the western territories received the right to vote. Election officials worried that such large numbers of votes would make voting fraud easier. They looked for a solution in the introduction of the Australian or blanket ballot and in new ballot counting machines. The Acme, an improvement upon the open-slot box, had a tabulator activated by a lever mechanism that releases the ballot into the box. The Acme was manufactured in Bridgewater, Connecticut, about 1880.

In the late 19th century, gear-and-lever voting machines were introduced, following contemporary trends in ballot design, notably the tabular layout of the blanket ballot, and private curtained booths were provided for voters.

From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, elections specialists looked to vote recording systems that could tap the processing power of computers, and punch cards were introduced. Later on, the punch cards had to be put into a card count reader.

Since the Help America Vote Act of 2002, more places are adopting the “optical scan” or “direct recording electronic” (DRE) touch screen computer systems for voting.